Dinosaur Days

IN pre-Jurassic days, we wouldn't have noticed. But when a book-touring author referred to "The last dinosauric gasp of the Soviet regime," we cast a sharp glance. Was he ... under the influence? Had he been absorbed into the dinosaur madness found on magazine covers from The New Yorker to Boy's Life? Had his agent said, "Play the Jurassic angle on the Kremlin, it's selling."

Ah, Hollywood! These are the days of Triceretops and Veliceraptor. Stephen Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," a genuine thriller, broke box office records with a $50 million take last weekend. The film corresponds with new dinosaur revisionism and theories about genetic possibilities. After the movie and media one must know that dinosaurs were not as pea-brained as we were taught, nor were their metabolisms as cold-blooded. Soon it will be de rigueur to choose a favorite dino. Does one go with the large veggie -eating Sauropods? Or the more aggressive meat-eating Theropods? Don't look at your notes!

Our own expert for the last 10 years, now age 15, recites chapter and verse about the Triceretops who, he said, were social beings who took care of their young. Sounds good to us.

Kids love the strangeness of these creatures. Dinosaurs, like the reaches of space, put them in touch with grander dimensions. As our expert says, dinosaurs ruled earth for 270 million years while man's written record dates back only 10,000.

How sad that the hype - Jurassic meals at McDonald's, a theme park, clothes, toys - makes kids feel pressure to see a film not made for them. In a poll of parents in Los Angeles most said they wouldn't take a child under nine. One stated: "The scene where the Tyrannosaurus rex eats the lawyer was very disturbing."

There's also some science hype. Can 150-million-year-old DNA create a "terrible lizard"? A Newsweek cover simply asks: "Could Dinosaurs Return?" This isn't the most pressing question facing mankind today. But what if they did? Would we negotiate with them? Would dinosaurs accept a homeland under a UN trusteeship headed toward a limited form of democracy with a bicameral legislature?

But seriously, the film does have a message. The dinosaurs may be terrifying. But we don't blame them. They are dinosaurs, after all. The issue is what happens when ambitious people take hold of forces too profound for them. "We spared no expense," says the willful dilettante who recreates dinosaurs in the film. Scientists distrust him because, as one says, his efforts "don't require any discipline. You have simply borrowed the genius of others for your own purposes."

Sounds like a timeless warning.

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